Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't let your mind wander

"Don't let your mind wander --  it's too little to be let out alone."

Something got my mind to wandering this morning. A lovely sight, and unusual.  A girl, somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11, I would say, riding her bike through the crosswalk at Kilimanjaro and Oakland Mills Road.  She was wearing a swimsuit, long brightly colored drawstring pants, a bike helmet, and a healthy sense of self-confidence.

Where was she going at 8 am?  The swimsuit suggests the pool, perhaps Jeffers Hill?  But is it open that early? As I continued down Oakland Mills Road, the image of that lively, smiling girl, so focused on her bike-riding and the fun that lay ahead of her, would not leave my mind.

She was alone.

On a hot summer day, dressed for adventure and fun, she had a place to go, and a purpose.

But she was alone.

In a beautiful, safe neighborhood, crossing a street with a light and a crosswalk, with many family homes nearby--

She was alone.

It is heart-wrenching to me that one girl on a bicycle feels like the last dying gasp of my childhood. I did those sorts of things all the time. I want to celebrate because I see her, yet I worry because, well, we have become a culture of fear.

Recently I followed a link to view a new project from CA:  a comic book designed to help both kids and their parents learn about the many benefits of the Columbia community.   I love it.  I grew up reading coming books; my daughter loves graphic novels.

But I had that same nagging feeling.  They are alone.  These kids are going all over Columbia without adult supervision.  Is that what it was like back in the 70's and 80's, when Columbia was just coming into being? Do the makers of the comic book mean to say we can still have that world today?

I want to believe that, with my whole heart. I want to believe that it's more than a comic book wish.

I have a friend who remembers growing up in Columbia, and his memories are filled with vivid recollections of kids. Kids everywhere, out playing, going to the pool, the tot lots. Teens would babysit if parents were in a bind.  Are there fewer children in Columbia today?  Or are they all inside, supervised by electronic devices or signed up for activities since both parents today must work?

I am fairly certain of one thing.  This girl was not too little to be let out alone. And she wasn't really alone, because her family had given her a chance to develop independence and the joy of accomplishment.

Probably none of them are thinking about that today. But I am.


Friday, July 20, 2012

HoCo Holler!

NPR's Click and Clack (the Tappet Brothers) have the "Shameless Commerce Division" of Car Talk.

Today, I am instituting the "HoCo Holler", my version of highlighting local businesses, at Village Green/Town Squared. Call it Shameless Hometown Heralding, if you will.  (Or think of something better?)

Last Saturday, mac and I hosted a bridal shower for @sommeilbienivre.  We had a guest list of fifteen and house too small in which to entertain them. So,  I reached out to the folks at The Second Chance Saloon in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Since I use their dining room several times a year for "A Little Lunch Music" children's events, I am familiar with the space, the menu, and the staff. Oh yeah, and I hang out there. Like, a lot.

I met with manager Jacquie Ramsey to set up the event and plan a menu.  She got back to me promptly with a list of prices.  We would have the entire space to ourselves from 2-4 for no charge; our only expenses would be for food and gratuity. She even offered to let us chose from their XM/Sirius channels to provide just the right music for the event. We chose "Siriusly Sinatra", a channel which we felt would be compatible with our "Breakfast at Tiffany's" bridal shower theme.

For the desserts and favors, we chose Linda's Bakery on Snowden. mac was happy to come along to place the order, probably because we picked out a few pastries to eat on the way home--a chocolate eclair and a small apple tart--delicious. I brought photographs of what I wanted from my bridal shower Pinterest Board. Linda's was able to do everything we wanted, and even asked for us to send along the photos in an email so that they could match the colors accurately!

We chose vanilla and chocolate cupcakes decorated to look like Tiffany gift boxes, chocolate chip meringues, and Tiffany-blue vanilla macarons to use as our party favors. When I arrived on the day of the shower, a staff member stopped everything to allow me to inspect our purchases. Then another staffer volunteered to carry everything to my car, even going so far as to recommend how to place them so they wouldn't get damaged on the car ride home.

To sum up:  the day of the shower went beautifully.  The Second Chance pulled off everything flawlessly--attentive service, delicious food, great crooning by Sinatra...and the desserts by Linda were delicious.  I did order too much food, so we invited the guys down at the end to help us out.  And I didn't realize that Tiffany blue frosting might give guests an exciting blue lipstick look, but that added to the fun.

A special shout-out to Dave Bittner of Pixel Workshop and Hocomojo, for lending us the piece de resistance for our event:

And Dave--Audrey is doing well and we are going to return her, I promise.

Do you have a HoCo business that deserves a Holler?  Share in the Comments Section below.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I'm Having A Moment

If you'll excuse me, I'm having a moment here.  A "school supply moment." Oakland Mills Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum aptly coined the phrase in her recent newsletter announcing this year's "Prepare for Success" drive. I found this passage, in an online essay, which describes the feeling well:

I never even liked school very much, but the Back to School season was still something special. Back to School was a time of such great newness it always left me feeling that anything could happen. With my school supplies laid out all clean and perfect in those final days before school started, I could always catch a glimpse of the better me that could possibly emerge that school year.  (Jana Pruden)

But what if you are one of the 9,000 Howard County students that need the Free & Reduced Meal program? What if you are one of the 400 students who are homeless? A child who is already struggling with issues of inadequate food and housing comes to school with significant challenges to learning. And these are the students who need those "school supply moments" the most.  As Jana Pruden states, to "catch a glimpse of the better me."

Changing the cycle of poverty does not happen in one grand gesture, or with the wave of a magic wand. Nourishing food, a secure place to lay your head, and a caring school environment are vital. But the next step, that "feeling that anything could happen"? That next step is where you, Dear Reader, are needed.

You can donate anything from pencils to backpacks. Or, you can make a donation through Paypal. $20.00 will buy enough supplies to get one student started for the school year. I have a friend from church who makes bargain hunting for school supplies her summer project.  The Olympic Games are nothing compared to Mary Jo's school supply sweep. She knows when Staples is advertising pocket folders for a penny.  She knows when Walmart is running a buy one, get one free deal on composition books.  

But the thing she knows most of all is the joy of giving.  Her children are grown.  Her summer tradition benefits the Prepare for Success program in Howard County.

Oakland Mills, like all of the Columbia Villages, has big boxes waiting to be filled with your donations.  Sandy Cederbaum is going to be keeping track of donations this year with a "backpack wall", a visual representation of how the donations are adding up.  She's excited about filling up that wall with tiny backpacks that mean big things for our neediest children.

In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", Jason Robard's character Murray likes to go down to the docks to see off cruise ships. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things.” 

Let's see our kids off in style--ready for the voyage--with a belief that anything could happen.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Location, Location, Location

How did you choose your place of residence?  My decision was easy.  I met my future husband, he owned a house in Columbia. Bingo! I knew almost nothing about the area, but I knew it had him in it.  Enough said.

Usually folks have a longer list than mine.  If you watch "House Hunters" on HGTV, you have heard a boatload of them.  Good neighborhood, good schools, big yard, architectural detail, open plan, stainless steel, granite, short commute, local amenities...  The list is seemingly endless. One woman refused to consider any properties without doggie doors. Really.

In Columbia and Howard County, location plays every bit the role that the old saying suggests.  People care about East vs West, whether a home is on CA - assessed property, neighborhood schools' test scores, incidence of crime, quality of nearby shopping, viability of the closest Village Center, walk-ability, bike-ability, and the rest.

I do not propose to interfere with the sacred rite of home selection. Although, as an aside, I offer that school test scores tell you mostly the income level of the area.  The higher the overall family income, the higher the test scores, pretty much.  So, if you want to hitch your wagon to that particular star, you will want to be living with the rich people, assuming you have very deep pockets. My suggestion would be to actually visit the schools, and, if you can, talk to families in the area. But I digress.

Recent meteorological events have brought an additional qualification to mind.  When you are looking at a house, it would be good to know some facts:  how often has this area lost power?  When it is out, how long does it generally take to fix?  What is the longest time it has ever been without power?  Does loss of power mean loss of water?

My family is extremely lucky. We don't lose power very often, and when we do, the outages are manageable, always less than 12 hours--so far--knock on wood. 

Let's make it clear--we are not smarter, more virtuous, richer, or more forward-thinking than anyone else.  We are just plain lucky.  We live in a very modest home in an
area that some Howard County pundits consider to be "sketchy", although our experiences here have been wonderful.  But if I were in the market to pick out a different home, my friends' post-derecho horror stories would be weighing heavily on my mind.

If my power goes out, I want to be in one of those big groups they always fix first. Before this storm, I didn't even know anything about that. It's pretty close to the top of my list now. It doesn't take long in record-breaking hot, humid temperatures to feel that your grip on civilization is slipping. 

One last piece of advice, if you buy a house near a golf course or a major concert venue--they're probably not going to move it at this point, so be forewarned.


Monday, July 2, 2012

At the Crossroads

The other day I sat at a stop light at the intersection of Route 175 and Dobbin Road, waiting to turn left and go to Target.  As I waited for the light to change, I noticed a bearded man at the corner, holding up a sign."Grandfather..." it began. I turned my eyes away, not wishing to encourage him.  I've been told many times not to give money; it enables addiction. As I looked away I noticed that similar sign holders were standing at three out of four of the corners of the intersection. The other two were women.

Three out of four.  I may have gotten used to seeing, and then not seeing, *one* as I travel around town. But three out of four? It felt overwhelming.

Do you remember when JessieX wrote a series of blog posts about the Dobbin Starbucks?  (It was around 2008, BCA.) When I got home I went straight to the computer to find them.  I was searching for an observation that had been going round and round in my brain since I sat at the red light on 175. I couldn't find it, so I am going to have to reconstruct it from my (imperfect) memory. The gist of it was that the true center of Columbia, the "hip, happening place" was the Dobbin Starbucks.

Yes, the Dobbin Starbucks has moved since then, but not by enough to shift the center of gravity, IMHO. And now I feel the connection:  here is the center of Columbia, and here are the poor/unemployed/homeless/panhandlers at their posts. They are not at the Lakefront, or by the Mall; they are at the crossroads of commerce: outcasts in an outparcel.

As I write I can see Downtown Naysayers jumping to their feet, saying, "See? That's exactly why we don't want our beautiful Town Center to be polluted by development. If you build it, They will come."

But that's not the point. The point is that They are here.  They are here. The location is not the point. Putting poverty in an outparcel doesn't make it more acceptable.  The poor are with us--in Howard County and in Columbia itself. 

Hocoblogger Tom Coale has taken poverty off the street corner and out of the woods with his "Living In Recovery" Crowdrise campaign on his blog, HoCoRising. He sees, quite rightly, that it doesn't matter where they are; it matters where they are going.

The suffering we can see makes us uncomfortable.  The suffering we can't see is easier for us to ignore. But as many of our friends and neighbors call out to each other through social media in the aftermath of Friday's storm, what is it like for them? Can we even imagine?

I'm excited by the local support for Tom's campaign.  I'm even more excited by the new initiatives I see bubbling up, inspired by his vision.  So let's get that combined vision-and-action on three, no, four out of four street corners in the #hoco.

So our neighbors won't be standing there alone.